In Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Outside of her seven marriages, little is known about famous mid-twentieth century actress and sex icon Evelyn Hugo. One day, this famous actress long out of the spotlight decides to do a tell all, and demands that little-known journalist Monique Grant writes the book.

Monique, for her part, has just broken up with her husband, who decided to move across the country without her. Her journalistic career is also not where she wanted it to be at 35. This story is a chance to rocket her career into orbit, but little does she know it will do more than that.

When I first saw this book, I honestly didn’t have much interest in it. I don’t tend to care much about Hollywood, actors and actresses or their drama. However I saw so many people raving about this book that I had to pick it up.

And it was so, so worth it.

It drew me in quickly at first with the journalism bits, as someone who almost went into journalism those bits were relatable to me. But from there the emotion and mystery grabbed me and, frankly, never let go. Throughout the story we saw the ups and downs of Evenlyn’s life, the truth behind all of the rumors about which the media knows even less than it thinks.

This is a small spoiler but it’s important that I talk about it, Evelyn is Bisexual. This is revealed fairly early in the story, though she was closeted to the public for her whole life. She did tell a few people and, well let’s just say it plays an integral part from beginning to end.

Her bisexuality though brings us to another part, this book gives a look into some of the history of the LGTBQIA+ community in the mid-late 20th century and how much many people had to hide. Especially in the case of a famous person who’s career could be shattered by it, at one point Evelyn even expresses concern that the cops could come for her and anyone she’s with should people find out.

The book ties everything up beautifully in the end and is arguably the most beautiful and heartbreaking books I have read this year, possibly ever.

This book has trigger warnings for Sex, Domestic Violence, Death, Suicide, alcohol abuse, divorce.

If this book sounds remotely interesting to you, I would recommend you pick it up.


Rights of Use by Shannon Eichorn

Aliens don’t exist. At least, not as far as the public is concerned. Unfortunately for Sarah and Maggie, they do. Abducted by parasitic aliens intent on using their bodies as hosts. With the Kemtewet intent on using them as status symbols, the Gertewet, parasites who don’t inhabit humans without their consent, are working to take down the Kemtewet empire. Our intrepid pair must work to escape with their lives and minds in tact. But can they do it without becoming Gertewet hosts?

The idea behind Rights of Use grabbed me right off the bat and I eagerly jumped in the moment it became available on Kindle. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am excited for the next in the series. The book follows multiple perspectives, including Sarah, Maggies father, and two Gertewet/human pairs (The Gertewet work with their human hosts, leaving their minds in tact. Kemtewet think of humans as meatsuits.)

All were well developed, believable and interesting, especially with the insights into Kemtewet culture. I found Sarah’s POV by far the most, since she was in a lot of the most immediate danger from a POV standpoint. Maggie and Sarah are together often though so we don’t see many Maggie POV’s comparatively.

This book features Genderfluid aliens who adopt the gender of their hosts and might have multiple hosts of different genders over a lifetime, as well as questions of bodily autonomy.

Trigger warnings for rape analogies, genocide, murder and kidnapping.

Overall this book was very good and I would reccomend it to anyone who finds the idea remotely interesting.


Steven Universe: Lapis and Abuse

*Spoilers for S1 and 2 of Steven Universe*

Steven Universe is a show filled with well written characters. One that stood out to me was Lapis and her journey of abuse and recovery.

When we first meet Lapis, Steven accidentally helps her escape from a mirror and she escapes, returning to homeworld after a series of events that involved draining the ocean. Next time she shows up she is informant and prisoner to Jasper and Peridot and one escape scene run by Steven and the Gems later Lapis turns on Jasper and fuses with her, forming Malachite and chaining them to the bottom of the sea.

As if being trapped in a mirror for five thousand years and arrested for no reason she’s aware of upon turning home weren’t bad enough, her experience fused with Jasper haunts her on some level for the rest of the episodes we have so far.

Lapis has a hard time trusting people, and this is amplified after her experiences with homeworld and being trapped as Malachite. In addition, she fears water for awhile afterward even though she loved water before and even has power over it.

There was one particularly powerful episode where Steven and Greg take Lapis on a boat to help her recovery. Despite attempts to make it fun things keep going wrong and Lapis admits that part of her wants to reform Malachite with Jasper.

A part of her wants to go back to a relationship she knows is toxic.

I’ve had my own experiences with abuse and this one hit me. An abuser can get so far into your head that a part of you is still attached to them even when you know being apart from them is better for you. There were moments after I got away from my own abuser where I was so confused part of me really wanted to go back, and that scared the crap out of me.

Lapis experiences this too, and admits it to Steven. At the end of the episode Jasper herself shows up out of nowhere. The confrontation is tense but then in a supremely powerful and empowering moment, Lapis slams Jasper under the chin with a water uppercut and in that moment, I felt like Lapis.

Like even though I booted my abuser from my life years ago, I was doing it again right there. She, like I, still struggle with the effects of our abuse, but that person no longer has control of me, like Jasper has no control over her.

Lapis represents a powerful story of abuse and recovery. And just as her story didn’t end in Season two, neither did mine. And neither does yours.


Chameleon Moon by Roanna Sylver

Parole sucks. Some drug has given everyone super powers and they are now looked over by SkEye, a mass surveillance system that kills anyone who disagrees with the main authority that put everyone in Parole. On top of that, everything is literally crumbling, with entire buildings and blocks sometimes disappearing. Oh yea, and the entire undercity is on fire. Like I said, Parole sucks.

But all is not lost. In the midst of this are a group of people who fight relentlessly against the dark.

When I first found this book, it was billed as a good book for finding hope when everything looks bad, which, I mean given that I’m in the United States at the moment *gestures broadly*.

Needless to say it appealed to me. It was also billed as a book with good Asexual representation, which is lacking in books I’ve read. But what did I actually think?

I absolutely loved this book. More, I needed this book right now. Even outside of representation, the image of so many people fighting relentlessly in a hopelessly dark situation filled me. With the relentless passion of the complex cast of characters and quotes such as “So I can either cry and scream and self-destruct and live in fear, or I can live in that love and do as much good as I can.” Which I would consider for my first tattoo if I got one, or “There is enough air.” Which I know someone has tattooed on their arm.

The relentless pursuit of a better world in the face of darkness was uplifting and inspiring. The characters themselves were all complex and real. The fighters had flaws and struggles, none of them were perfect and all of them had doubts. Even the characters who had done horrible things in their past or were the antagonists were complex and real and conflicted.

The plot was thrilling and intense and the worse things get the more you just want everyone to get out and live a better life. The plot twists are great as well.

As far as themes and representation, wow. Poly rep, transgender rep, Ace rep, disabled rep and probably more that I’m forgetting or missed. It’s all done wonderfully and wrapped up in themes of found family, identity and the resiliency of humanity in the face of evil.

This book was a fantastic first installment to the trilogy this will be a part of and I would recommend this to fans of Biopunk, dystopia, or anyone who needs a burst of hope in the darkness.


The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Elma and Nathaniel York are a happily married couple living out their lives as employees of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in a slightly altered version of the 1950’s. Everything is running as normal when an asteroid strikes the coast off of Washington DC.

Lucky enough to have escaped the explosion, the couple make their way through the devastation to what remains of NACA, only to find the situation worse than they had imagined.

In the midst of this, Elma, mathematical genius and former WASP pilot in WWII, struggles against an all too familiar 1950’s patriarchy to become an astronaut. Elma’s struggles collide with 1950’s sociopolitical turmoil and international disaster, one question dominates her mind.

In the quest to leave Earth, when will women get to go?

I could question where to start at the beginning of each post, but honestly that’s half because so many books I’ve read lately are so good I want to say everything at once.

The Calculating Stars grips you from the beginning and never lets go. All of the characters in this book are deep and complex, and in ways that make the book better.

The main antagonist is unfortunately believable (His believability is great, of course, he’s just a massive mysoginistic jerk, especially when it comes to Elma.) And there is a variety of racial diversity in this book that is extremely relevant. Like, for instance, how a black or Taiwanese person might have a more difficult time becoming an astronaut than a white woman. Elma herself is forced to confront her own internalized racism throughout the book as a result of this.

The book is also extremely well researched, to the point where Mary had a chance to visit Nasa and had an astronaut helping her with terminology and making sure everything was 1950’s accurate in all things space (A fact which, as I understand, Mary is eminently pleased).

The Calculating stars is an excellent book in all of the right ways, tackling issues of Race, Gender and climate change while showing powerful healthy relationships, both friendship and marriage. As well as a diverse, complex cast of characters and a compelling plot that keep it moving. If any of this peaks your interest at all, I recommend you pick up this book.


In Review: Dawn Among the Stars by Samantha Heuwagen

Aliens are real.

Our Sense of Security diminished, blown away into oblivion

Aliens are real.

The above excerpt is from the first page of Dawn Among the Stars, and hooked me the moment I read it. The book follows three different perspectives, all of whom the reader meets to some level in the first chapter but with very different experiences, as they deal with the aftermath of an alien invasion.

In particular it focuses on the mental health aspects of it, PTSD, depression, anxiety, all while presenting a compelling story of survival, endurance, and hope in the face of extreme adversity. And all three perspectives were handled wonderfully.

Between the three perspectives, each is written in first person. Additionally, the book follows one character all the way through to a certain point, then another, then another, without returning to a previous characters perspective (There will be a sequel at some point). The author handled returning to the same timeframe wonderfully and, while small bits of information are repeated between characters, never did it feel repetitive or like the author was trying to reexplain everything again and again.

Even when small things are repeated, its because the characters genuinely need to know, and sometimes we the reader get even more information than we had. Expanding on the mystery of who either race of aliens is and why the fight is happening

I picked this book up because the entire premise fascinated me and it very much delivered. The perspectives were unique and distinct and the portrayals of the mental health effects of an alien invasion were real and very well portrayed. Without getting into spoilers, there is even a budding human alien relationship I liked more than in Freedoms Landing, which I previously reviewed. Though I suspect this is for surrounding world reasons than anything else.

I did have a couple of gripes. There was a small plot hole that I noticed, but the story flowed seamlessly in spite of it. I also didn’t like the cliffhanger ending, but that will be resolved when the sequel comes out.

Overall, I would still recommend this book, especially to people who like scifi and realistic portrayals of mental illness


Signs of Attraction, Representation and Me

There’s a lot of talk about representation in fiction and how important it is. Since I’ve first learned about the concept I thought yea, everyone should be able to see themselves in books, and I’ve seen bits of me represented in books before outside of my gender and race. I’ve also seen its importance reflected in the lives of many others. I had an experience recently though that really hit me.

Signs of Attraction By Laura Brown, who is Hard of Hearing, is a book about a woman named Carli who is hard of hearing and was raised to hate that fact, feeling it makes her imperfect and that that imperfection is something to be reviled. She desperately tries to hide it out of embarrassment and fear of judgement. On the other side is Reed, a Deaf man who is completely comfortable with the fact.

The book is a contemporary romance, so there is a romance between the two during which Carli is introduced to the deaf community, meets more people who are hard of hearing and becomes comfortable with who she is.

This isn’t something I’ve mentioned on the blog, but I am Hard of Hearing. I have a profound hearing loss in one ear, for which I need a hearing aid. An aid that I didn’t get until High School because prior to that there weren’t hearing aids for my kind of hearing loss.

Now, unlike Carli I’ve never been terribly insecure about my hearing loss, my parents fought for every advantage I could get so growing up it was just another part of me. Prior to this book I honestly hadn’t thought much about it in years.

Signs of Attraction was my first exposure to the deaf/hard of hearing community, something I only learned about a few months early while doing research to write a deaf character in my WIP. I guess you could say it was the first time I’d seen hearing loss normalized as a thing for people my age, in books or in real life.

Maybe I never noticed much because it was just one of several weird things about me, but I don’t remember thinking much about it growing up. I could hear so I didn’t think I’d need ASL, so I didn’t try to learn it, I only had one friend growing up who were hard of hearing and we didn’t really talk about it, and we lost contact before I got an aid of my own. I never met anyone who was deaf.

I recently heard someone say representation makes people feel seen and found. I think found fits my feelings perfectly, like my eyes have opened to a whole new world that’s been there all along if only I could see it. Because of this book I am now doing more research, learning ASL and planning to take classes and I hope to meet more people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Signs of Attraction also has wonderful representation of chronic pain and suicide, which Carli struggles with after events about half way through the book. She starts to have fears about herself and her future that hit me so hard and personally that I cried.

One of the best parts of the book was the uplifting ending, how hopeful it was and its message about belonging and overcoming obstacles in addition to the found family theme for which I am a complete sucker. It wasn’t a perfect book, I didn’t like how obsessed with sex everyone was. It wasn’t all hetero sex, but everyone seems too keen on it to me, plus the assumptions that any guy has had sex by his early 20’s, some of which could have simply been individual character attitudes.

This didn’t detract from the book though as a whole and it still has had a huge impact on me. Laura Brown clearly knows her stuff and her book has sent me onto a journey into the unknown yet strangely familiar. I look forward to the trip.


Series review: Exo/Cross Fire by Fonda Lee

100 years ago, the Zhree came and conquered Earth., Humanity tried to fight back, but we lost. 100 years later humans live in a cast system under Zhree rule, it is in this system that Donovan lives comfortably. That is, until he is captured by the rebel group Sapience and his world is turned upside down.

Going into this series I expected it to be good. Having read Jade City I figured her scifi series couldn’t be bad. A series where humanity lost the invasion and we have a perspective, not from the rebels but from someone who works for the military in  support of alien occupation.

I didn’t know what to expect with this series but boy, oh boy did it deliver. The divide between good and bad is murky and nothing is ever quite what it seems. This series tackles questions of colonization, power, responsibility and the divide between what society says you must do versus what is right, and what is really right?

All of the characters, rebel, soldier and Zhree are complex and nuanced, and the relationships between them are intense and add so much to the story. And arcs that start in Exo end in Cross Fire in fantastic ways that add to the intensity of the end.

I went into this series assuming it would be good, but this series was an absolute ride that had my mind spinning from beginning to end. An absolute must read.


Writing Mental and Physical illness

Mental illness, disability and other chronic illnesses impact billions of people globally to varying degrees and severities, so it is no surprise that it often comes up in writing. Unfortunately, it is also a subject that is also frequently glorified, exaggerated and sensationalized by people who haven’t done enough research or in some cases are looking to exploit some condition for sensationalism. Looking at you, Hollywood.

That said, there are also many works in different forms of media that portray mental illness very well. So how do you do it? How do you write a mental illness that you may have no experience with.

The first thing you should do, whether you’re portraying something you have or not, is research. Not all experiences are the same, and it can’t hurt to know too much. Another thing you can do is talk to people who have experience with the condition, as they will give you real-life examples of people living with it.

I would also recommend a site called The Mighty. It’s a massive blog where people post about living with various illnesses, both physical and mental. It’s a great place to connect with people who have your same condition and also a great place to learn something about the daily experiences of people dealing with a certain condition.

In the end, doing research and showing respect for the subject and the people who deal with it is the best policy when writing about illness people struggle with, both mental and physical. Avoiding stereotypes is an absolute must as well. It can be difficult to write these things well, but when done, it provides characters that we need in fiction, and portrays people who in some form or anther exist in real life.


Coup De Grace By Hollie Hausenfluck and Avrin Kelly

Hayden is living a normal life. She is a successful career detective, she lives with her fiance, everything is going well. Until, that is, a murder case becomes more than it first appears. Now Hayden is in a race against time in a battle with forces she didn’t know existsed.

When I first went into this book I didn’t know quite what to expect, except that it was a detective novella that featured a wizard. So shoving all Dresden Files comparisons out of my head I dove in.

Overall I thought it was a good book. Both Hayden and Theirry are great characters who play off of each other well, the pacing is good through most of it and it had a satisfying ending. I was a bit confused on the POV at the beginning but that resolved itself quickly and did not waver through the rest of the story. I also thought it was a bit slow at first, but that could have been me waiting for the wizards and magic to happen, and it never felt slow once that revealed itself.

That said, I still enjoyed this story and would recommend it to Urban Fantasy fans.

*disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review